Philippians 2:1-11 is one of the most well known passages in the Pauline letters. I have been intrigued by the vision of God that is given in this passage. Here is the text for you to read and the following is a meditation on the humility of God.
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This text is phenomenal. Paul is showing us that humility is central to the character of God. Here we see a God who gets underneath his creatures to serve them. A God who actually considers his creatures more important than himself. A God who genuinely looks out for our interests above his own. Stunning!
This text points us to the reality that Jesus is God’s chosen self-disclosure. If you want to know what God is like you must look to Jesus. This is implicit in the text. It is explicit elsewhere. John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Jesus has explained God to the world. He has led him out from behind the curtain for all to see.
Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” When you look at Jesus you see God.And when we do look at Jesus, what do we see?
We see a humble man serving us with great humility and sacrifice at every turn. The text maps out the humble journey of the Son of God. At each critical juncture, we see humility embodied and explained. I want to highlight three junctures in the journey of Jesus: the crib, the cross, and the crown. All three of this junctures are marked by humility.
In verses 3 and 4 the text reads, “in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also the interest of others.” Paul tells us that this was precisely the mindset of Jesus. It was his frame of mind when he agreed with the Father to come into this world and become a man.
As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less about yourself, but thinking about yourself less.” It is the freedom of self-forgetfulness and the joy of throwing yourself into the service of others. This is what characterizes the life of God.
Verse 6 is quite incredible, “although he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus was fully equal with God. But he did not use his divine status as an excuse to remove himself from our need. He did not cling to his exalted position instead he used it for our good. “He emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
One author explains the significance of this statement as follows: “The decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience, obedience to the divine plan of salvation, yes, all the way was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine.” In other words, the fact that Jesus refused to remain in heaven speaks volumes about God. This is a God who uses all of his divine resources to serve and save us!
In Jesus we behold a God in the crib. A God so humble that he was willing to become a child. He was willing to be clothed and fed by a mother. He was willing to learn to crawl, talk, and dress himself—so that one day he could put himself on a piece of wood and die for us!
Paul tells us in verse 8 that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
This is the climax of humble service. Everything in the life of Jesus was building to this moment. As Luther once said, “The cross and crib are cut from the same wood.” The cross was just the next stage in his humble service toward us. But the cross changes everything. The definition of humility was forever altered after the Son of God was hung upon a tree for you and me. Who is this God?
Hearers of this message in Paul’s day would have been absolutely stunned that any deity would be connected to humility and more than that a cross. Humility was not a virtue for the roman gods; it was a weakness. Augustine was adamant that you would not find the quality of humility ever attributed to any other so called god. This was a virtue that belonged exclusively to Jesus Christ.
A cross was even crazier—many thought that the early Christians were “mad” for worshipping a God that had been crucified. Crucifixion was the ultimate shameful death—how could you claim that a god could ever be crucified and even more how could you ever worship such a weak and helpless god?
The truth, however, is that the cross is the greatest display of humble love the world has ever known. It expresses to us that we have a God who was literally humbled to death for our sake! A God who was swallowed by death in order to destroy it from the inside—for us!
Luther says, “Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross.” Why? Because this is his glory! The God who comes low and took on death to demonstrate the depth of his concern—this is glory.
Without a humble God we could not be saved. Augustine said “there would be no salvation for us if Christ had not been prepared to humble himself for our sakes.” The humility of Jesus is a saving humility. He is not just showing us the way of humility. He is saving us by his humility.
Paul tells us that this humiliation takes a turn to exaltation. God highly exalts him and gives him a name above all names. And it is at this name that every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.
Even here the glory of humility is evident. It is the humility of God that brings us to our knees in adoration. When we behold the stunning and unexpected glory of humility, we ourselves are humbled. God crushes us with his kindness—it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. I believe this is just another dimension or angle on his humility.
When the Son is exalted what does he do in heaven as he sits at the right hand of God enthroned? The book of Hebrews and the book of Romans both tell us that he does not sit on his throne much—instead we find him on his knees interceding and praying for us! This is how he reigns from heaven—with sacrificial concern and service.
When we look at Jesus we behold a God on his knees. Crawling as a baby. Falling to his knees as he carries the cross. On his knees in prayer as our King. The glory of his humility is blinding. He considers us as more important than himself and proves it by giving his own life for our sake. Such humility beckons us—calls us to worship. It calls us to join God on our knees. If we serve a God who is comfortable on his knees then surely that is where we will meet with him.